Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Diagnosis of a loss - mind, strategy, or skill

I remember one of my recent hockey teams. We were a mid-pack team that would win half our games and lose half our games. For mosts games it would be close and we would have a chance to win or lose. When we did lose, we would assemble in the dressing room after the game, and the guys would come out with their analysis of the loss. Fortunately, in hockey you can blame the refs, but once the ref got a good bad mouthing, we would move on to, "we weren't focused enough".

Crosby, clearly, just doesn't want it enough (sarcasm).

To be honest, I didn't say much during these change room talks. My feeling, which I voiced once, but was quickly dismissed, was that we lost games simply due to the fact that they had better players. On average their three lines were more skilled than our three lines, and our strength (which was usually our defense men and goalie) couldn't hold off the attack long enough for our forwards to score. And yet, we would always blame the ref and our mental toughness, concluding that next time we would do better.

Yesterday, I read an article along these lines prompting this post. We seem to be in a modern era of the blaming the sports/team mind. They/we didn't want it enough. I, myself, have been in team circles emphasizing the importance of focus and desire. Not that mind is not important in sport, but it's time for us to move into the enlightened age where athletes mind, athletes skill, and team strategy are equally responsible for wins and losses.

I would argue that Ultimate is a little different and championships are still won based on personnel (not so much strategy). It's about building a team with enough skilled athletes and shaping their minds. We haven't reached a critical mass point where the difference is small between the best and the stars. Instead, at the top tournaments the difference between a star and a team member can be significant.

For example, in Open clubs you can see that the stronger teams are from larger population centers, and the exceptional teams tend to be from Ultimate meccas that also have reasonably large population base. If the sport continues to grow and stay amateur, then I expect that larger population centers will be the major forces in the sport.

Regardless of where you are, train your team to be skilled, solid in the mind game, and strategise well. Then given a loss or a win, look at the full picture, and ask how each of the three factors could have been improved.



Gambler said...

I tend to disagree slightly...

A coach of mine once said, "teams tend to overanalyze their losses and underanalyze their wins." I've found this very true in ultimate.

I think when teams lose, it's natural to want to try and find the reason why. And most teams I know spend a great deal of time dwelling on the explanations. We didn't want it enough early in the game. We got scared once we were down two breaks. The number of calls blocked our flow. We couldn't handle their aggressive zone going upwind. We were fatigued and our legs failed us late in the game. Our deep looks were off. They had a deeper D line and wore us down. We didn't have an answer for their top player. etc. etc. I think the explanations usually cover the full spectrum of mind, strategy and skill, often with a lot of detail.

But when teams win, they usually just chalk it up to something incredibly simple, if they even bother to ask themselves why they won at all. Even after winning close games by onen point, teams still rarely analyze a game in the way they would if they lost the game. Especially if that win happened early in a tournament.

IMHO, teams could really benefit from understanding why they won games in just as much depth as why they lost games.

luke said...

Good post Cultimate, Good comment Gwen. Perfectly stated.

I always liked the term 'sob circle' to refer to post game LONG HUDDLES. Needless to say, my first though was how to get to the grocery store, if i'd not stopped off before the day.

I heard it credited to KD that the game come down to one call and the flip of the disc. Not true in blowouts, but...

Focusing on what let you win is positive reinforcement, which is inarguably the superior technique. In game reinforcement (good cut, nice throw, good mark) is valuable.

Also, avoiding reinforcement of bad habits that lead to wins is important. Celebrate a catch in a crowd, but never say 'nice huck.' Maybe good punt, if the first 3 options were legitimately shut down...

My team lost a post season 'friendly' in barefeet to the other teams today. As the game wound to a close and ended at 'time cap' they started complaining about the loss, the gloating of players on the other team getting their first 'win' in 3 years, perceived taunting, basically, that they loss.

My only statements in our 1 minute post practice meeting were:

"if you don't like the way the other team treats you in a loss, don't lose, but remember to be gracious when you win."

"If you decide at the end of a game that it was important enough to care, then it was important enough to care the whole time."

When we win, and while we're winning, or if we lose, and while we're playing, i think just focus on what players are doing well, (i.e., good cut) and ask them to be aware that they are focusing on all the little things like defensive position, marking, executing the simple plan.

And as an aside, in HS, I find the most important thing to remind them is that any mistake more forgivable than hanging your head after a mistake.

Even running should be perceived as a positive by a team. I liked an XC shirt I saw:

"Your punishment is our pleasure."

Jeters said...

Points taken. In our hockey wins it was funny, we never discussed why we won. Instead, it always was discussions on the glory moments of the game.